25 November 2010


     I want to wish everyone a very happy and loving Thanksgiving. I know that many family historians are busy in the kitchen today, which is, in itself, a way of keeping the family history alive. We transmit memories along with our recipes and our holiday customs. But, don't miss the chance to do two other important tasks: share family stories and record memories of this day. In our quest to record the past, we family historians often forget the present. Make a record of your Thanksgiving recipes, and ask those who brought their dishes and desserts to do the same. If you are hosting and are too busy to sit and talk with guests, appoint a child or relative as "historian of the day," whose job it is to both record the moment and listen for stories of the past. Give a restless young relative a video camera and a mission--to produce a family documentary for your Facebook page.
     Tomorrow, Friday, November 26th, is an important day for family historians in the USA. StoryCorps, the national oral history project, has designated the day after Thanksgiving as the "National Day of Listening." Their aim is to encourage everyone to take an hour out of the day tomorrow to record a conversation with a loved one.
     StoryCorps itself has recorded oral histories of over 60,000 Americans, mostly ordinary citizens. The oral histories the Corps collect are on file at the Library of Congress.
     Don't have a relative at the ready for recording? Record yourself. Write down a few memories. Many a memoir began with one small paragraph. Take that step today and generations will thank you for it!

19 November 2010


      No matter what my topic is, most of the questions during my talks deal with brick walls. Today I am posting three video snippets of a talk I gave at the Gloucester County NJ Historical Society. Because of the number of brick wall questions, I departed from my prepared talk on church records and discussed how to find those ancestors hidden by the faery folk. Of course, if I knew THE method to blast every Irish family historian's brick wall, I would be a rich woman today (or, at least, very popular among family historians).  But, I hope perhaps the videos will inspire you to "think outside the box."

 Dr. A., a former Buddhist monk, would tell me to add that, more precisely, Buddhists would say that we simply perceive a wall. That is true, our research problems are walls only if we perceive them to be!


12 November 2010


     Clues lurk in the most amazing places. Often, they are right under our noses but hidden from view. My friend Rosemarie surely has faery folk in her family tree, since she is always finding clues hidden in family heirlooms and records (I wrote a while back about the clues her Irish grandfather left in a collection of poems he wrote).
     Recently, a framed document that had been hanging on her wall fell, and its frame broke. The document was her late husband's discharge certificate from the USMC. Her mother in law had framed the certificate, along with some of the family treasures. As Rosemarie took apart the matting in order to get the document reframed, she found a form on the back of the certificate. The form contained a complete account of her husband's career in the Marines, from enlistment to discharge. Details included dates, places, and pay rates.
     Rosemarie's story reminded me that clues are often shielded from our view. Notes are sometimes written on the back of documents and photos. Sometimes these notes are cryptic, often they contain clues to our ancestor's lives. Sometimes they are hidden behind frames, mats, or photo mountings.
     A note scribbled on the hidden back of a baptismal certificate proved to be the one clue that blew open the door to discovering ancestors I had lost all hope of finding. The certificate was in a plastic folder, and its back was obscured by another document. On a hunch one day,  I pulled it out of the folder. On the back was this scribbled note:

I knew the date was not the date of  my grandfather's death, even though it was on his baptismal certificate. The date turned out to be that of the death of my great grandfather, of whom the family knew nothing. Starting with this date of death, I was able to trace my family all the way back to their village in Poland.
     What heirloom, photos, or documents do you have that might contain hidden clues? Don't forget to examine carefully any books you might have inherited from ancestors. One woman brought her family Bible to one of my talks. In between the pages, she had found pressed flowers, notes, and lace. I have found bookmarks made out of obituary notices. I have also found funeral cards in prayer books.
     I am sure Rosemarie is eyeing those other documents and heirlooms her mother in law had framed. Whether to dismantle a framed heirloom or an old scrapbook is a tough question. I have attended a few classes on archival preservation, and am sensitive to the value of keeping an heirloom "as is." The frame or scrapbook is often an heirloom in itself. You may wish to consult a professional before tearing apart a frame or ripping photos out of an album. Do, however, check the backs of any documents you might have in your binders or files. A note that meant nothing to you years ago might today prove instrumental to your research.
     Hmmm, maybe one of my ancestors hid valuable stock certificates or an original copy of the Declaration of Independence behind the photo of Aunt Maggie.....

05 November 2010


     I had a wonderful trip to Rome last week. As an American, I am always amazed by the sheer stretch of history in the buildings of Europe, and visiting the antiquities in Rome was truly an experience of a lifetime. As a family historian, I envied those Romans whose families have roots stretching back through those ages. I have to remind myself that we all have roots that long--we just have to find them!
    Upon my return, I was happy to learn that at least two researchers took my "call to action" seriously and contacted other people for information about ancestors. Both made progress in their research. One man reminded me to pass on this advice: attend reunions or jubilee celebrations of ancestral or childhood parishes or schools (or just attend Mass or services in an ancestral or childhood parish). Former neighbors and fellow parishioners of your ancestors and relatives can give you valuable information about your ancestors and insight into their lives. You might even discover a family secret or neighborhood gossip!
1641 Depositions
     The buzz this month seems to center around the Trinity College Dublin's online database of the 1641 Depositions. These depositions have been the subject of much controversy throughout subsequent Irish history. The depositions, about 8,000 of them now online, were taken of Irish Protestants after the violent Catholic uprising. Not only is the database of importance to students of Irish history, it is of great genealogical value. The depositions are full of names--Catholics, Protestants, victims, perpetrators, neighbors, officials, and bystanders. The database is searchable by surname and by county. Be aware that the original spellings were used, so you must search for various spellings of the surnames you are researching (e.g., Brennan, Brenin). The database is free, registration (of an email address) is required.
Irish Genealogical Projects
     The wonderful volunteers at the Irish Genealogical Project continue to expand their outstanding databases. Below are their latest updates. Thank you, IGP!
General Ireland NEWSPAPER---check out the new drop-down box for searching the newspapers.
HOME Page with drop down box for counties
Blanchardstown Dublin Asst. Baptisms - 1775-1880
Chapelizod Parish Dublin - Asst. Baptisms, (FLANAGAN, LANE, NEWMAN) 1854-1905
St Paul Parish Dublin - Asst. Baptisms FLANNAGAN, BERGIN, MULLALLY & others
St Paul Parish Dublin - Asst. Marriages FLANNAGAN, BERGIN, MULLALLY & others
Blanchardstown Dublin Assorted Marriages - 1776-1879
Chapelizod Parish Dublin - Assorted Marriages 1854-1928
Kildare Genealogy Archives CHURCH
MULLALY, RORKE, TIMMINS - Assorted R.C., Baptisms
To Be Sold - The Estate of John EATON, Esq
Laois Genealogy Archives - CHURCH
Mount Mellick Baptisms 1837 - 1859 - K
R.C. Baptisms - Connor, Fitzpatrick, Kennedy
Limerick - PHOTOS
Kilflynn Church (Church of Ireland) Ballydonohoe
Ballyorgan, Roman Catholic Church, Kilflyn
Limerick Genealogy Archives - Headstones
Kilflynn Church of Ireland Graveyard, Ballydonohoe
Longford Genealogy Archives - Headstone Photos
Patrick Walsh - Headstone
St. Patrick's Plaques, Monaghan
Tipperary Free Press, 4 April 1827 - Assizes
Tipperary VITALS
Assorted South Tipperary Birth Extracts 1864-1918
Assorted South Tipperary Marriage Extracts 1864-1918
Assorted South Tipperary Death Extracts 1864-1918
Wicklow Genealogy Archives - CHURCH
Assorted R.C. Baptisms - BYRNE, FITZPATRICK
Kilquade Cemetery